Protect Your Dog from Disaster

Your beautiful dog has become a valued member of your family, but what would you do with him in the event of an emergency? Proper planning is essential to making sure your pet is cared for, no matter what life brings your way.

The American Red Cross advocates that every member of the household, including pets, have an emergency kit ready to "grab-and-go" at a moment's notice. For your dog, a grab-and-go bag should include a portable kennel or crate in which your pet can be safely transported.

Accustomed to Crate

Make sure your pet is familiar with the crate so he doesn't get scared when you put him in it during an emergency. If you only crate your dog when you take him to the vet, he will likely not be happy to be crated when you are moving him in an emergency situation. In addition, your dog will likely pick up on the tension you are feeling during an emergency, making him that much harder to control while you are putting him in the crate.

To make sure your dog is comfortable with the crate, set it up in the room of your house where you spend the most time. Place a toy or treat in the kennel and praise your dog when he goes into the crate to get it. Don't lock him in, but let him know this is a good place to relax, and he can freely enter and exit. If your dog sleeps on a dog bed, put the bed in the kennel and praise him when he goes in to lie down.

Pug in pet carrier
Get your dog used to his carrier before emergency strikes.

Use the kennel when you go to "happy" places such as grandma's house or the park. The dog will learn to associate traveling with something other than going to the scary vet's office.

Medication and Records

The next thing you need to have in your grab-and-go bag is an up-to-date medical record for your dog. Shot records, as well as any health problems, should be documented in writing. Make a note of your veterinarian's name and contact information, as well as any special needs your pet has. This information becomes important if you need to check your dog into a boarding kennel. Make sure to keep some of your dog's medication on hand, and check every six months to make sure your emergency medication supply has not become out of date. Store medical records and medications in a waterproof container.

Remember that most, if not all, emergency shelters take people only. They are not prepared to handle pets, and cannot allow them inside due to other clients' allergies and public health concerns. In addition, if you are running from a natural disaster, the hotels outside of the disaster zone may fill up quickly. You may not be able to get a room at a pet-friendly hotel, leaving you no option other than to board your dog.

Identification, Identification, Identification!

If your dog doesn't normally wear an identification tag on his collar, keep a spare collar with a current license tag, rabies tag, and an ID tag in your grab-and-go bag. At a minimum, the ID tag should contain the dog's name and your cell phone number. IN a disaster, there is a good likelihood that your home phone won't be working or that you will not be in your home, so the home phone number will not be all that helpful. You may also want to use a piece of tape with a friend's number written in indelible ink during an emergency. Tape this information over your dog's normal ID tag, allowing people to call your friend, outside of the disaster zone, if your dog should become lost.

Place a spare leash in your grab-and-go bag. One of the biggest problems with an emergency is that you just won't know what's happening from minute-to-minute. You want to be able to keep your dog under your control, regardless of the circumstances. The disaster is likely to un-nerve your dog, just as it upsets you. Your dog may act in unpredictable ways - hiding, trying to escape, or even biting when he is upset.

A leash is particularly important if you have a very large dog, making a crate somewhat unwieldy. It's tough to imagine packing a crate for a Great Dane into your Honda, so you may have to rely on a leash instead.

Food and Water

The next items for your grab-and-go bag are food and water. The Red Cross recommends that you be prepared to live without any assistance for 3 - 5 days. Remember that the power may be out, making ATMs useless, so you need to stock up on food and water ahead of time. Canned food may be a good option because it will stay fresh longer. Bottled water will last indefinitely.

First Aid kit
Your dog's grab-and-go bag should include a first aid kit

First Aid Basics

Lastly, you will want to include a pet first aid kit. Your kit should include vinyl gloves, an eye dropper, tweezers, scissors, gauze, chemical ice packs, blankets or towels, triple-antibiotic cream, cotton swabs, a pen light, and hydrogen peroxide. Keep this kit with your grab-and-go bag, and if you use any of the supplies before the disaster, be sure to replace them.

Plan for Disaster

Now that your grab-and-go back is ready, you are ready to create a disaster plan. Your plan should include three different scenarios:

  1. What to do if you have advance warning and have to evacuate.
  2. What to do if you have no advance warning and have to stay put
  3. What to do if you are not home when disaster strikes

No matter which scenario plays out, you need to make sure your dog is adequately trained to come when called, either to you or to a neighbor or friend when disaster is imminent. It does you no good to have your grab-and-go bag and your disaster plan ready if your dog wanders off and doesn't return to you when you have to evacuate or place him somewhere to assure his safety.

Consider the types of disasters that are likely where you live. For example, East Coast residents are most likely to experience hurricanes, and need to consider wind damage and flooding. California residents may be most concerned about earthquakes, while those in Oklahoma know that tornadoes will blow through every spring. Considering the various types of emergencies, what is the most likely action you will have to take? Will you be able to shelter-in-place? Will you have to evacuate? Is camping out in the backyard an option? The answers to these questions will determine what you need to do next.

Stay Home, or Evacuate?

If you can stay home during an emergency, take a look at your home to find a location away from windows where you can lock your pet up during a disaster such as a tornado. The area should have a non-carpeted floor if possible, to make clean-up easier. Bathrooms and utility rooms are good choices. If you will go to the basement or into a storm cellar, make sure you have room for the dog's crate, as well.

English Setters ready to go in their crate
If you have to evacuate in a emergency, have a plan that includes your dog.

If your emergency planning involves evacuation, spend a few minutes looking for boarding kennels or pet-friendly hotels in the area to which you are likely to evacuate. Ask hotels if they would consider waiving their "no pets" policy during emergencies. If you are lucky enough to have friends or relatives in the area, make sure they are okay with your bringing your dog along if you have to stay with them. Prepare a list of phone numbers for potential sheltering places or boarding kennels and keep it with your grab-and-go bag. If you have any advance warning of an emergency which requires evacuation, call your hotel of choice immediately to assure your reservation.

What if You’re Not Home When Disaster Strikes?

The hardest part of disaster planning is to figure out what will happen with your pet if you are not at home when disaster strikes. Do you have a family member, neighbor, or friend who can get into your home to rescue your dog and get the grab-and-go bag? This person should be someone with whom your dog is familiar. Your grab-and-go bag should include everything a caregiver would need to know about your dog. For example, if he only eats his dry food when you add some water to it, you will want to make a note of that and put it with the bag of food. If he likes his daily medication wrapped in a piece of cheese, the caregiver will appreciate knowing that. And if a muzzle is needed when the dog is around children or other dogs, you definitely want to mention that!

We all hope that disaster never befalls us, but the fact is that we are all at risk. Who would have thought that a hurricane would knock out power to over a million people in Ohio, as Ike did in September, 2008? Even the utility companies were caught unprepared, as they had sent many of their crews to the Gulf Coast to help repair storm damage, resulting in many of their Ohio customers being without power for over a week! You just never know, so you need to be prepared. Don't leave your dog's fate in an emergency up to chance!

For more information on pet care during a disaster, contact your local American Red Cross chapter or your Humane Society.

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